Children are learners by nature and instinct. Researchers confirm that the fastest rate of growth happens during the period between birth and the age of three (How Children Learn) (1). Learning of course does not stop at any particular age, instead the ways in which a child is learning and understanding the world change.
Babies observe faces, listen to sounds and voices, grip fingers, pull hair, grab things and put them in their mouths. As they develop into crawling and walking, they prefer holding larger objects like blocks and balls, and toys that they can push around or ride in. They are learning by using all their senses and constantly improving their overall physical coordination. As toddlers, they express curiosity by further exploring the world through dress-ups and imitating adults. And as preschoolers, they start to ask questions and want to know even more about their world. They enjoy being with other kids, running around, coloring, and making or building things. Whilst at two or three years old, they were not good at sharing their toys, now, at the age of four to five, they begin to examine the world from other people's perspective. They can show some "reflective empathy" and even learn how to comfort someone in distress, a big step in their social and emotional development.
For example, if the child's friend cut his finger and started to cry, the child may comfort him, by saying that he will find his mom. Whereas before, the child may react to his friend's mishap by crying too, reacting the way he would if it actually had happened to him, i.e. imagining the situation from his perspective only.
Where does language fall into this? Developing important social skills, like empathy is strongly tied with the development of cognitive thinking and abstract learning, and of course the development of language. Through language children learn to express their emotions and re-imagine the world from different perspectives, not just theirs. And since children learn by imitation, it is important to role model and show them how to handle different situations.
For example, if you're frustrated while being stuck in the morning traffic to school, you may say something in front of your child like "I'm upset" or "stressed out". You may also give physical ques through the tone of your voice, your facial expressions, or the movement of your arms. By doing that you have named the emotion. Next, it is important to explain why and give it a reason, for example "the traffic will make us late for school". It is also equally important to offer a solution or method of comfort. You may turn on some music and say "I will listen to my favorite songs and this will help me calm down".
Using language properly is vital in taking advantage of similar situations to help develop a child's emotional understanding and intelligence. Ultimately, children with higher emotional intelligence enjoy higher rates of self-esteem and social-ability. It is clear that language plays a vital role in enhancing abstract cognition. The link between emotional development and language development is vital at this age.
Language allows children to express and even regulate their emotions to best fit different situations. For example, if a family friend makes scary faces, they may tell him that he is being scary, tell him to stop it, and even tell themselves that he is just trying to be silly and does not intend to scare them. So, as their language skills develop, so their social skills do. They may feel frustrated at not getting something they wanted in the supermarket, but they may also know that crying and screaming is not a proper way of dealing with their frustration. They may revert to other methods of resolution, by attempting to negotiate with their mom for example.
It is safe to conclude that learning and developing language the right way can have positive effects on the child's personality and well-being. Even better, learning another language at a young age can enhance reflective empathy, by allowing the child to switch between language as needed. For example, a child who speaks English and his parents' mother tongue may realize that his grandparents don't speak English and would try to use their native language.
Bilingual children are thus more likely to be better, not just at multi-tasking, but also at communicating with others, since they are able to understand things from other's perspective (4). Consider learning another language as a daily exercise of doing that and start teaching your child the Arabic language today.
In addition to that, recent scientific research has shown that learning Arabic can be a true "brain workout". A featured BBC article explains why Arabic is harder than other languages, forcing the brain to work in a completely different way than when learning English for example. Many of the Arabic consonants have similar shapes, distinguished by dots (15 shapes in total for 28 letters, for example س ش ح ج خ ب ت ث ف ق). This means Arabic learning encourages paying attention to detail. And whilst learning other languages usually requires the use of both left and right hemispheres of the brain (left to study local details, and right to understand the general picture or global aspects), learning Arabic mainly depends on using the left side of the brain only, as the right side is challenged by the amount of details entailed in the letters.
Further more, the Arabic language depends mainly on consonants and leaves out vowels when writing, just like Hebrew or Aramaic languages. It focuses on using only the long vowels and leaves out the short ones, as you can use diacritics or symbols on the consonants to identify them. For example, the word "Angela" becomes "Anglaa" in Arabic writing, because the "aa" at the end is considered a long vowels. Talk about brain workout!
This gives you for sure more motivation to start teaching Arabic to your child today. Who doesn't want their child to be smarter and a better learner.
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